04 September 2012

Goldilocks Aster in Gower

Listed as Nationally Scarce, Goldilocks Aster (Aster linosyris) occurs at only half a dozen sites around the UK. All populations are small but relatively stable. Mervyn Howells has monitored the Gower sub-sites regularly for many years and with the onset of the flowering season took me to most of the known sites, where as well as carrying out counts, we looked at some of the management issues at each.
All along the cliffs of South Gower coastal heath has developed on glacial head deposits that spill down the slopes between Limestone outcrops. Gorse is invariably the dominant species in these more acidic areas and provides Goldilocks Aster protection from grazing animals. However, the aster will only grow through Gorse that is generally less than 20cm high and it only grows in calcareous soils, so is restricted to areas where the deposits are shallow enough to reduce the vigour of the Gorse enabling the limestone flora to compete. 
Mervyn at a site in good condition with plenty of flowering spikes
a not so healthy site, severely burned in spring 2012, resulting in all Gorse being lost and a flush of Scarlet Pimpernel and other annuals. A few non-flowering shoots were found demonstrating Goldilocks Aster can survive burning, but without protection from Gorse is more vulnerable to grazing. 


Charles Hipkin said...

Thanks for bringing this to our attention Barry. This is a very notable, nationally rare species and Mervyn has done a great job monitoring these populations in recent years. Presumably, it is an ancient member of the cliff flora, along with the other famous relict species that occur there. Yet, evidence suggests that it goes missing every now and then. For example, given the number of naturalists that have scoured these famous cliffs in the last 100 years, it is surprising that it was unknown there until the 1940s when Eleanor Vachell and David McLintock (independently) found it. After that, and despite careful searching, it went missing again until Martin Page re-found it in 1974. Mervyn's records may give us a valuable insight into these curious demographic trends.

Barry Stewart said...

Although 'The Atlas' states populations are stable, Mervyn's counts clearly demonstrate some dramatic changes at individual sites. Within the period it has been monitored, it has survived periodic burning, over-grazing, under-grazing & mechanical cutting. Despite disappearing at some sites for periods it does have a tendency to magically reappear, so despite it's apparent vulnerability it does display a certain resilience!

Barry Stewart said...

I must add that most sites are Wildlife Trust reserves and that much time and effort has been put into managing aster habitat. The Overton Mere site has received much attention in recent years so it was good to see the aster in flower here.

Martin Page said...

I have an admission to make. I didn't go looking for Aster linosyris. I discovered that I was sitting on it when I had my lunch! I was doing a line transect along the cliff at the time.

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